A patient who was wearing 3-year-old CIC hearing aids visited my office recently for her annual hearing test. Initial reports indicated that she was doing well and was happy with her hearing ability. When an audiogram revealed that her hearing hadn't changed, I was inclined to say, “Great. See you next year,” until I noticed that her QuickSIN scores were very poor.
When I delved a little deeper, I learned that the patient was, like the majority of people with hearing loss, experiencing great difficulty hearing in restaurants. She also told me, “I can't stand the sound of my own voice.”
When I shared information on new technology that may benefit her, her face lit up. This small sign of confirmation was minor compared to her reaction when I actually demonstrated the benefits of the technology. This encounter made me stop and ask myself,
“Why did I almost throw away the opportunity to help this woman improve the quality of her life?”
Many of us—and I include myself—tend to pigeonhole patients by the degree of their hearing loss or the age of their hearing aids. But as professionals, isn't it our obligation to share information on any and all technology that may benefit a patient? Shouldn't the patient be the one who decides if new technology is worth it to them?
We all know that hearing aids are never a replacement for normal hearing. This was never more apparent to me than when my husband sustained a sudden hearing loss years ago. He struggled to get used to hearing aids. When I scolded him for not being patient with the new devices, he looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “You don't know what it's like not to hear.” I have never forgotten that moment. I don't know what it's like not to hear, but I do know that I owe it to every patient to present all the options to hear better.
It doesn't take a mathematician to realize that helping more patients is good for business. I have read and observed that possibly as many as 50% of patients who need help walk out of our offices without it. Just imagine how many people we could help if we were better at convincing patients to take our advice. If you struggle with this, consider the following suggestions:
HOW TO HELP THE OTHER 50%
Track your “help” rate: When I ask people what their “help” rate is, they usually reply, “It's great.” However, few people actually track it. Start counting how many candidates you persuade to take your advice—and how many reject it. You might be surprised at the results.
Listen more, talk less: Convincing patients to take action is not about selling something. It is not about us or what is important to us. It's about what's important to the patient. The more we listen and respond in a manner that makes a patient feel comfortable, the more likely we are to be able to help them. The more our patients trust us, the more likely they will be to accept and act on our recommendations. Gaining a patient's commitment to better hearing should be the ultimate goal of all our efforts.
Show them, don't just tell them: People who have lived with hearing loss may have a difficult time understanding what it will be like to hear well again. Too often, we tell patients what they should do, but we don't show them what it would be like to hear again. Demonstrating the benefits of better hearing can be a very effective way to convince a patient to take action.
Be prepared for common objections: Don't be discouraged or alarmed if a patient objects before, during, or after you recommend hearing aids. Objections are statements, comments, requests for information, or inaccurate assumptions by the patient that need clarification. There is a big difference between an excuse and an objection. Here is a procedure for handling objections:
[checkered square] Listen carefully before answering.
[checkered square] Make sure neither to belittle nor to magnify an objection.
[checkered square] Answer the objection and then ask the patient, “Does that address your concern?” or “Does that answer your question?”
[checkered square] Remember, a patient's “no” might really mean, “You haven't convinced me.” Don't take objections personally. They are an integral part of helping patients.
Never assume: Most of us have been the subject of an erroneous assumption. Never judge what you think a person wants or can afford. Present the options that you believe are best for the patient and then let the patient be the judge.
Your effectiveness as a hearing healthcare professional is directly determined by your ability to convince patients to take action to improve their hearing. I have always believed that promoting better hearing is like religion. If you believe it, it won't be difficult to get your patients to believe it, too.